Royal Trux
Cats and Dogs
Drag City

If ever a band was due for a reassessment, it is perhaps Royal Trux. Though it wasn’t that long ago that they had fallen out of fashion for indulging some of their more trad notions (it’s been barely 10 years since they called it a day), the deconstructed rawk in which principal members (and former couple) Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema imbibed tumbled out of their (sometimes drug-addled) heads unaffected and with little thought to fidelity, be it high or lo(w). That they now come off like unintentional luminaries to a new generation of fuck-ups is surprising to be sure, though most of those kids lack the balls or the guts the duo once possessed.

Cats and Dogs was released in 1993, right before Royal Trux was inexplicably lured away from Drag City by Virgin and following their second self-titled album. It was the first to feature some additional helping hands, but the sound remained as sparse as its predecessor, full of anorexic takes on Sticky Fingers–like blues extrapolations. Herrema and Hagerty collectively pout and growl all over this record and its lean riffs, creating something as riveting for its gestures as for what actually ended up on tape.

Leadoff track “Teeth” is a dusty mix of guitar fuzz and tossed-off licks that constantly sounds like it’s on its last legs before stuttering back to life. It is the sound of burnt earth and diesel fumes, its scorched sonics dry to the back of the throat. “Flag,” however, is more distilled, fuzz and squawk providing a platform for Herrema’s nicotine-stained vocals. It is here that the Royal Trux show a more refined side, never deviating from a straight, albeit distorted, line. Here and on “Skywood Greenback Mantra,” Hagerty wrangles his guitar into sliding between hints at blues and noisy flippancy. On “Turn of the Century,” the band stretches such motifs out to seven minutes, indulging in freeform feedback and narcoleptic ambling.

The sparse settings of Cats and Dogs ensures that the band never indulges in, well, overindulgences. “Up the Sleeve” may swirl with several guitar effects, but they are sculpted to adhere to the record’s straight and narrow. Even as the song climaxes with bouts of woolly riffage, it is more like small contained explosions than anything supersonic. Cats and Dogs is an example of the band’s MO stripped down to its foundations, providing the skeleton that would be explored on a grander scale on later albums. While the are few missteps amongst the Royal Trux discography, this record was one of the first to reveal the band’s basic nature. Here was an album that showed there really was something to this band, that they weren’t just another smoke-filled substitution for the real deal.
Stephen Slaybaugh